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Judge Tosses Case Against Dredging Snake, Clearwater Rivers

Posted on February 15, 2016

A federal judge in Seattle has dismissed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others that sought to stop dredging of the Snake and Clearwater rivers to make way for barges.

U.S. District Court Judge James L. Robart said in his Tuesday ruling that the plaintiffs were wrong on the merits of their case and lacked standing to bring a lawsuit. The judge also said their complaints were moot because the project is now complete.

The Lewiston Tribune ( said the plaintiffs included Idaho Rivers United, the Nez Perce Tribe and Friends of the Clearwater. The environmental groups and tribe filed their lawsuit in 2014.

They contended that the dredging harmed salmon, steelhead and Pacific lamprey and was not economically justified.

They also claimed the corps failed to consider other options to clear sediment from the navigation channel before it chose dredging as the best way to restore the navigation channel to a depth of 14 feet and a width of 250 feet.

The groups asked for an injunction that would have delayed dredging until the case could be heard. Robart declined and the nearly $10 million dredging project was finished in early 2015.

Robart said the plaintiffs lacked standing because they failed to show fish would suffer any “concrete and particularized” harm from dredging.

The corps concluded that dredging was the only option that would solve the problem in short order and return the channel to its congressionally authorized dimensions.

“Plaintiffs may not agree with the corps’ conclusions, but the corps’ discussion of alternatives complied” with the National Environmental Policy Act, the judge wrote.

Corps spokesman Bruce Henrickson in Walla Walla said the agency was pleased with the ruling.

“It’s business as usual for us,” he said.

Port officials also welcomed the ruling, saying navigation on the Snake River provides good-paying jobs.

“We could not be happier that our farmers, cruise boats and other customers will be able to continue to rely on this important federal navigation channel,” Port of Clarkston Manager Wanda Keefer said in a statement issued by the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association.

Kevin Lewis of Boise-based Idaho Rivers United said taxpayers were not served by the ruling.

“We have a system that is failing, that is costing taxpayers a tremendous amount of money every year to support, and we are not getting anywhere close to a solution,” he said.

The plaintiffs also support breaching four lower Snake River dams that make river transportation between Lewiston, Idaho, and the Columbia River possible. Lewiston is the farthest inland seaport on the West Coast.

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